Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The day I spoke to Rahul Gandhi

It happened, really, in three parts, and may be that's the way It should be told.


I was on night duty at medicine casualty, on the night of 6th October, 09. It was a particularly hectic shift, having barely been able to sit down for a few minutes until midnight. A first year nursing student at some college in the private sector had jumped off the roof of her hostel, and so in addition to the usual crowd we had hoards of media people going about their job, and in doing so interfering with everyone else going about their's.

At around midnight, there was a momentary lull in the end-less parade of people with heart attacks, snake-bites, 'Bronchial Asthma's and plain high fever of a few days duration. The three of us on duty sank down to our seats for a moment of respite. I was the junior officer. In addition, there was a post-graduate resident and the casualty medical officer (CMO), who was the one in charge.

I listened then to a conversation between the resident and the officer. There was talk of having received instructions from the HOD - Internal Medicine, to the effect that one ventilator machine at the casualty was to be kept free for the night. Mr.Rahul Gandhi was visiting the city on Wednesday, and for the entire duration of his visit the ventilator had to be kept ready and waiting in case of an emergency. To avoid any last minute complications, no patient was to be admitted during the night.

I remember having thought, that the security protocol in case of someone as important to the nation as Mr.Gandhi might actually justify this rather elaborate and costly gesture (in terms of the human and ethical cost involved), and the doctor, who at the end of the day was merely a glorified technician, was only expected to carry out instructions just like the rest of them. I knew the CMO on duty to be a good clinician, and - more importantly - a man of integrity, yet the coolness with which he relayed the instruction down to his immediate sub-ordinate, that was chilling.

Here was what I was most terribly afraid that this system might do to me as well over the years - make me as cynical as the next man, render me incapable of noticing the cost of my actions, and in doing so take my refuge behind the steel curtain of bureaucratic indifference and impersonality. I believe I am halfway there already, having seen time and again how similar steps were taken to mollify the giant egos of even local political wannabes.

The medical casualty has two ventilator machines - which are important in acute life support (please see my post 'The Reluctant Fisherman' for a bit more about acute life support and the ethical dilemmas therein), and usually we have only one of them functioning properly. To keep it vacant for an entire day - for an eventuality that only might occur, and that too when there were scores of such machines in the private hospitals in the city readily available, that was obscene. I know there might be dictates of protocol that necessitate such extreme measures, but I think its about time that more people began asking a few dirty questions around this country.

Anyway, the night passes, thankfully uneventful, but for a few more heart attacks (Myocardial Infarction or MI as we refer to them), a couple more of snake bites, and the usual number of Diabetics with very low sugar in their blood. Nothing happened, that would necessitate use of a ventilator machine, until 8 in the morning, when my 12 hr shift ended.

Drearily, I made it back to the quarters, having handed over charge to the day-shift team. One of the perks of being the junior officer is that though you have to be the first person to report for duty, you also get to be the one that stays on his seat through the night - even as nurses and paramedical staff go to bed - and then get to the one to stay on until the next shift has arrived and duty is handed over.


My friend enters my room at the quarters, greatly excited, quite uncharactarestic for his quiet ways. He has a handful of cards in his hand bearing the picture of a smiling Rahul Gandhi. He asks me to grab my college ID card and go with him for the interaction programme with Mr.Gandhi, which was to start in one of the well-known arts colleges of the city in an hour's time. I declined at first, pointing out that I did not possess a valid college ID card just then, as was required by the instructions on the entry pass. However, it had been a while since we had gone out together, and my friends convinced me to try my luck as all the others had their papers in order. I thought of telling them that the Special Protection Group or SPG that was responsible for Mr.Gandhi's security were professionals of the highest order, and it would be futile - and unfair - to expect them to show any leniency, but in the end decided to go along with the fun as far as possible.

We make it to the venue, and surely, there's an obviously SPG person at the gate asking for our passes and college IDs: Clad in smart gray safari suit, tall and strongly built, eyes calm and intelligent. I knew we were gone beyond the point of no return, because to start walking away now would be to immediately rouse his suspicion. Expecting fully well to be turned away, I walk up to him, say 'Hi', show him the invite card, and tell him about the student ID card that has been submitted to the college office for renewal and upgradation to a faculty card. He takes his time to assess me, looking me up and down, and then looks at the IDs of my friends, some of them sporting brand new faculty cards, others fishing dilapidated student IDs out of their wallets, and then, almost to my disbelief, lets me in. I pause a moment to tell him I appreciate the risk he is taking in letting me in, and thank him for it. For a very brief moment, something like a smile fleets across his features, before they again become set in stone, and I realized why the SPG were regarded as the best in the country in what they did. It was not because they were burly robots that would follow rules blindly and to a T, but because they were sensible men who could assess situations and people using their own intellect. That was what made them invaluable and so highly effective.

We troupe in, my friends and I, and find ourselves seats in amongst one of the front rows of an auditorium that would eventually come to be filled with nearly a thousand people. Tired from the night, I start dozing off almost immediately. I was woken up by the sound of a thunderous standing ovation as Mr.Gandhi arrived, without the regular media entourage, which I learned later was deliberately forbidden from hanging in on the interactive session.

After the usual introductions, RG, clad in casual attire, rose up to speak, and went on to explain in some detail why he was making this trip. He talked of the core assets of India being its people, on the demographic advantage of having a higher percentage of youth than the other big nations of the world, and why it was hence important for the youth to take a more active interest in the running of the country. He started taking questions from the gathered students, and in answering their questions spoke of the other India, the India of superstitions and hunger and deprivations, the India that we had to strive to bring in to the mainstream. He gave the general impression of being someone who had learned at depth about the state of the nation - both its problems and possible solutions to the same. More importantly, he came across as someone who was neither blissfully ignorant of the complexities of the problems that we were faced with, but at the same time was not awed by the enormity of the task. He believed change was possible, here and now, if only we might exercise the will and faculties that we possessed. I felt he was someone who cared about this country, and had faith in the system's ability to correct itself from within, a faith that the people of this country seem to be losing dangerously fast. And lastly, it was obvious that this man did not take his authority for a traditional taken-for-granted fiefdom, but had made it a point to earn his entitlement. His faith and goodwill, was infectious.


It was then, that I decided it had to be told. I could see that this man was different from any other politician I had met: in that he possessed a basic sense of decency and respect. I knew then, that he would never ask that a ventilator be denied to anyone whose life might depend on it, and keep it for his possible use. I knew, with some degree of certainity, that he would actually not stand for something like that happening on his name. I could feel that he was capable of doing something, simply because it was the right thing to do. Change was possible, here and now, he had said. I believed him, something I had thought myself incapable of doing in so short a while.

I asked for the microphone, and when my turn came, stood up and told him that I had a question for him, but first, I had a tale to tell.

I told him about the ventilator that was kept vacant only because he was in city. I told him that I drew no conclusions or made no accusations, but I thought he would like to know.

Strangely enough, my microphone failed, and RG asked me to just shout at him, which I did gladly and at the top of my voice.

I was right in that RG shared my sentiment. But he was shocked, and I hadn't counted on that.

"Its disgusting", was his reply. He promised to get on top of it right away.

I went on to ask my question, about the need to more strongly promote social engineering, rather than leaving it up to the people themselves, with the result that different communities were experiencing vastly different standard of living and rates of improvement of living indices. I asked about our inability, or rather, unwillingness to counter the sort of propoganda that led to the two-nation theory and the partition. I was hoping he might suggest a uniform civil code and more aggressively encouraging all sections to form a value consensus with the mainstream. The question was nebulous enough to have begun with, and without the help of the microphone it was hopelessly lost on RG, who could only catch my beginning phrase about Democracy in India having been the imposition of an intellectual minority. He talked of their having been elements of democracy in our culture long before the republic was formed - something I totally agree with him on. Argumentative Indian is a must read on this subject.

Immediately after he had answered the question, Rahul came back to the story of the ventilator, and wanted to know the name of the hospital and the doctor who had issued the order. Not wanting to shout names just there, I offered to tell it to him after the meeting was over. A dignified person came to me and introduced himself as working for RG, and took down the details. He took me aside and asked me to wait there for a meeting with RG. Soon afterwards, Rahul came down and came to where I was standing, and repeated what I already knew - that he didn't have anything to do with it, and would have never allowed it to happen in the first place. He asked his secy to raise the matter with the SPG at the earliest. I was beginning to feel ashamed for having made this man apologize twice for what was clearly not his doing, and I felt to compelled to say something.

I told him, words I'd always remember. "I hadn't planned on saying any of this here when I had come in. But after seeing you, and listening to you, I felt you deserved to know what they were doing in your name."

"You are a good man, Rahul Gandhi."

And I dare say I had the nerve to pat him on his back. Twice.

I think he was moved as well. He paused two seconds, said thanks, patted me on the back as well, and got inside the SUV that took him away.

Change is here, Rahul Gandhi. Way to go.


  1. I am stunned.
    I never expected you to stand up and say what was clearly bothering you as a doctor. Denying a ventilator to a critically ill person would have been so wrong. But if we do not stand up and do the right thing, we fail as human beings. I really applaud you for daring to ask the question.
    I always liked RG. There are people who say that our country should not have dynastic rule as this is a democracy. I personally feel, as long as a good, honest and an efficient person holds the reins, why should it matter if he/she also happens to be the child of some politician.
    But yes, we should boot out those who are corrupt and greedy.
    I hope RG remembers this incident and takes care to see that something like this does not happen again.
    On a lighter note, you spoke to RG? Wow! You are famous! Did your name come in the paper?

  2. Be the change you want to see in the world-Mahatma Gandhi.And it s time another Gandhi got reminded ..Reminder to all,in fact.Appreciate what you did,blue bird.There s definitely an angel watching over you.

  3. I don't know the words to appreciate you Dr.Blue bird.....As a doctor i have also come across such situations and felt really sorry for the deprived souls who were deprived of their rights just because some BIG person is around....Great work Blue Bird...Hats Off to you!
    Cheers Rahul will surely make India proud one day!

  4. I got goosebumps as I read this. You spoke to him? Kudos Bluebird. Hats off to your courage for telling him the situation. Wow! I just can't stop being excited!
    Btw, he also attended the neighbourign college, of which I am an alumnus, for a few mins . I wish I had enrolled for PG there! ;)

    Great post! :)

  5. Wow! Gopu, I think you are the hero rather than RG. Whether MC will get another ventilator or not, whether an order will be issued that all hospital should have at least two machines in working condition, you have raised your voice and thats all that matters. You are the Hero!

    Just remember before RG, there were MN, JN, IG and RG senior. I would be too naive to believe that this one could change the world. But the point is to strive, rage, rage into the night.

    Stick around and don't go to WHO. We need guys like you around here!

  6. Wow!!
    I am glad you did that. Read about this in today's paper and we were also discussing the irony of this. Reading about RG's interactions with college students across Kerala, somehow I feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
    Wow to you again!

  7. PS: In today's evening news, Kairali channel showed a discreetly shot sequence of an Air Force transport plane that brought in special cars for Rahul Gandhi to move around in Kerala. It said that the plane flew between Trivandrum and Kozhikode 4 times, taking around the vehicles. All this talk of economizing blah blah and RG's cars flown in from New Delhi in an Air Force jet! While I admire Gopu's courage and honesty, I would take RG with the proverbial pinch of salt! We all know his lineage, don't we? Twenty years ago as young men, we too were enamored by his father. You know your history!

  8. @ Aparna: Yeah, I share your sentiment. The news did figure in the local media, although it was a media-free event. Not my name, though, as I had made it clear to some press reporters who came to me immediately after the event that I was not interested in self-promotion. Something had to be told, and someone had to do it.

    @ Anamika: Hope my angel would watch me over through this one. I dont like my job very much but I'd love to hold on to it for as long as possible.

    @ BB. welcome here. Making difficult decisions is part of our job definition, but sometimes, you just have to yell.

    @Destiny: Yeah I can guess your disappointment. But you might have even gone as an old student. It was more about meeting youth, and not strictly students only

    @ Bala: I am no hopeless romantic, dear friend, and I realize that while all men may be born equal, some men are more equal than others. Mr.Gandhi's life is certainly more valuable to the nation's polity than yours or mine, and as such I dont have objection to the elaborate security measures. What I like about RG is that though he has greatness thrust upon him, he also seems to be trying to achieve it by his own means. And whether we like it or not, he is a national icon, and elimination of national icons is what terrorism is all about.

    My objection was towards reserving the ventilator at a govt hospital when there were scores of them available for use at the private hospitals of the city.

    @ Wanderlust: hi and welcome here. Yeah I share your views too.

  9. i read about RG visiting a few colleges in Kerala almost at the same time as I read your post. I think you deserve a huge round of applause for standing up and saying your thoughts out loud, many feel, but a very few express, it takes a lot of courage to stand tall and be vocal about a sticky situation. And you actually patted him and said that he was a good Doctor..what do I say to that!!

    On your writing, I must say, i like the way you put your thoughts across methodically and very succintly, very very balanced and objective view..

  10. @sujatha; thanks ma'm. some people around me are now telling me i should go into politics. what do you think? Just joking, but I am waiting for a call from delhi. Joking again.

  11. beautifully written. you are blunt and intense. politics is not for you. there you need diplomacy, there you need to playact all the time. you can never be yourself as a politician. your basic traits you cannot change. i have read somewhere that a person's character is decided before he or she crosses the age of four; psychologists say so. and i believe it, from my own life.

  12. Venu Sir,

    I was expecting your input. Yeah I guess you have a point. Regarding character formation, I dont know. I think it is a never -ending debate between 'nature' and 'nurture'. I think man has tremendous capacity for learning and un-learning; that goes well into adulthood. But the basic tendencies remain unchanged, however, its not to say they are unchangable or ungovernable.

  13. WOW. Everything here seems awesome for a seventeen year old me. Another malayali who doesn't just write nonsense. Glad to have stumbled upon your blog!

  14. Hi Thresia,

    Firstly, hi and welcome here, and glad that you think my writing is not all non-sense. Its good to have some reaffirmation once in a while.

    And hey, its good you mentioned your age, 'cause the name itself reminds me of my friend's grandmother:-)

  15. @ Bluebird

    It's my grandmother's name. And I don't care whether it's old, or worn, its like a pair or worn jeans or something. Comfortable. And it means a lot. And I love it. :D

    And reaffirmation? WHOA. That's like telling God that he's omnipotent. :D

  16. This is so interesting....! first of all let me congratulate you for actually a daring act. it may or may not bring any result but you atleast mustered the courage to stand and speak...

    I don't want to say much about RG but Balaji has rightly said that you are the real hero. I beleive we often wait for somebody of his stature to do something or bring changes but people like you or me can also bring changes in our small ways...

  17. Hi Imagination, old friend!

    Haven't seen you here in a while. Welcome back!

    I did ask myself, 'Was the stunt was worth it?'

    At the moment, it appeared to be the right thing to do.

    Will I do it again? I dont know. I dont look upon myself as a hero of some sort, in spite of what my friend above has said.

  18. Raise your voice and be heard. Kudoos to you Blue bird. I'm an ardent Gandhi fan and I truly believe that the RG is here to stay, so here's to all our young politicians, they do make an impression.

    Most discussion or debates, its sad that very few show care and concern, very few vouch action or even show an interest to take it fwd. Glad there are some individuals who want to make a difference. And you blue bird make the difference. Keep the spirit in you alive. God bless

  19. Dear Aswadhy,

    You are really lavish with your praise. I dont think of what I did as being particularly important. I believe the ordinarily commonfolk going about their everyday lives with simple honesty and courtesy are more courageous than those who sit around and talk at seminars.


Thanks for giving me this moment of your life.